Football has a responsibility to its participants and spectators.
Football is England’s national game. As such, it has a responsibility to its participants and spectators to provide a safe, non-prejudiced environment for everyone to enjoy a sport that brings joy to billions across the world.
Racism has been on the agenda since the Three Degrees’ days of Ron Atkinson’s West Bromwich Albion side of the late 1970s - when Laurie Cunningham, Brendan Batson, and Cyrille Regis dazzled the country with their swashbuckling style of play. All three players were black, a rarity in the First Division (now the Premier league) at the time.
It’s hard to picture it, but bananas were regularly jettisoned from the terraces, along with accompanying monkey chants. Thankfully, this has been consigned to the history books in this country - although it remains a serious problem elsewhere, most notably in Spain and Italy. West Brom’s selection of three black players in their starting XI was largely representative of the club’s community, where 30% of the population are from an ethnic background.
Brighton and Hove is much less diverse, ethnically, but does have the biggest LGBT community, percentage-wise, of any city in Europe, and pretty much the world. If any football club should be at the forefront of tackling homophobia in football it’s Brighton and Hove Albion.
The club is taking an active role in Football versus Homophobia month, with a range of events supporting the initiative. Last Sunday, the Brighton Lesbian and Gay Sports Society (BLAGSS) played a match against the Sussex County FA on Albion in the Community’s pitch at the academy in Lancing. The entertaining 0-0 draw had a celebratory feel as BLAGGS are now officially affiliated to the FA and are looking to organise friendlies with other clubs.
The late Sarah Watts, of the Albion supporters’ club, led from the front with her sterling efforts to bring homophobia to the attention of the FA and other clubs. Her actions were born of frustration from years of abuse at away games following her club. Albion fans have regularly heard entire stands singing "we can see you holding hands", "does your boyfriend know you’re here?" - and much cruder ditties not fit for printing in a family newspaper - over the decades. It was never original, or funny.
Look out for more information in the matchday programme, the big screens before the game and half-time, and support the initiative by purchasing a Football versus Homophobia t-shirt (all proceeds to FvH) from the Seagulls Store